Florence Carré, Aminte Thomann, and Yves-Marie Adrian
In Normandy, near Rouen, in Tournedos-sur-Seine and Val-de-Reuil, two adult skeletons thrown into wells during the Middle Ages have been studied. The wells are located at two separate sites just 3 km apart. Both sites consist of clustered settlements inhabited from the seventh to the tenth century and arranged around a cemetery. The backfill of the well shafts contains animal remains, but also partially or completely articulated human bodies. In Val-de-Reuil, the incomplete skeleton of a man, probably representing a secondary deposition, had traces of a violent blow on the skull, certainly with a blunt weapon. In Tournedos-sur-Seine, a woman thrown in headfirst had several impact points and bone fractures on the skull that could have been caused by perimortem mistreatment or a violent death. After a detailed description of the two finds and a contextualisation in the light of similar published cases, we will discuss the possible scenarios for the death and deposition of the individuals as well as their place in their communities.
Adrien Douchet, Taline Garibian, and Benoît Pouget
The aim of this article is to shed light on the conditions under which the funerary management of human remains was carried out by the French authorities during the early years of the First World War. It seeks to understand how the urgent need to clear the battlefield as quickly as possible came into conflict with the aspiration to give all deceased an individualised, or at the very least dignified, burial. Old military funerary practices were overturned and reconfigured to incorporate an ideal that sought the individual identification of citizen soldiers. The years 1914–15 were thus profoundly marked by a clash between the pragmatism of public health authorities obsessed with hygiene, the infancy of emerging forensic science, the aching desire of the nation to see its children buried individually and various political and military imperatives related to the conduct of the war.
The case of the management of the dead related to COVID-19
This article studies one of the humanitarian challenges caused by the COVID-19 crisis: the dignified handling of the mortal remains of individuals that have died from COVID-19 in Muslim contexts. It illustrates the discussion with examples from Sunni Muslim-majority states when relevant, such as Egypt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and Pakistan, and examples from English-speaking non-Muslim majority states such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada and Australia as well as Sri Lanka. The article finds that the case of the management of dead bodies of people who have died from COVID-19 has shown that the creativity and flexibility enshrined in the Islamic law-making logic and methodology, on the one hand, and the cooperation between Muslim jurists and specialised medical and forensic experts, on the other, have contributed to saving people’s lives and mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Muslim contexts.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, in the Kabye country, some heads of enemies – those of men foreign to the group – were buried in a mound of earth referred to as hude, meaning ‘manure’. In each locality, this mound is situated inside a wooded sanctuary where the spirit of the mythical founding ancestor resides. In order to understand this practice, this article examines how it fitted within the overall logic of the male initiation cycle, contextualising it in relation to past and present practices. Because it was a highly ambivalent element of the bush, the head of an enemy renewed the generative power of this original ‘manure’ prodigiously, so as to ensure the group’s survival in their land. The burial of the heads of strangers appears to be an initiatory variant of other forms of mastery of the ambivalence of wild forces, entrusted in other African societies to the chief and his waste heap.
The chapter discusses why the ‘rationality’ of resisting some knowledge does not mean that knowledge resistance is good. This leads the chapter to elaborate on what could be done – if anything – about knowledge resistance in cases that seem harmful. The chapter reiterates an earlier discussion about the difficulty for individuals of succeeding in ending our biased handling of information. Some ‘Apollonian’ heuristics are presented, ways of thinking that may help us think straight and more logically when we face, for instance, biased media coverage. While such heuristics may ideally help us think with more ‘factfulness’ – a term popularised by Hans Rosling – they are far from sufficient for fighting the more profound knowledge resistance in society. To truly make a difference requires us to collaborate within and between organisations to this end. Measures will, secondly, need to be taken mainly through structural changes in the rules of the game for how we handle knowledge. Concretely, the chapter suggests several ways in which structures can be altered. These include problem reframing, employing cognitive role models, and knowledge collaboration across groups.
This chapter begins by describing a scene where the author, as a Swedish high school student on an exchange trip to Colorado, witnessed a ritual of ‘moderate’ spanking while visiting some friends of the host family. The example is aimed at illustrating how both the author and the American father struggled to stay loyal to the knowledge beliefs of the social liberal Swedish culture (where physical punishment of children is prohibited) and to the conservative part of Colorado culture, respectively. This prompts a discussion of why it appears so important to us to stick to not only our community’s moral beliefs but also to its beliefs about what is true and false. The chapter shows how we often judge the quality of other people’s knowledge claims by checking what community they come from rather than testing how reliable the claims themselves seem to be. This leads the chapter to introduce the strongly social function of knowledge. Rather than truth-seekers, we have evolved throughout the long history of humankind to use knowledge claims very flexibly in order to strengthen our social bonds with our group and mark distinction from other groups.
This chapter uses the case of the measles vaccine scandal to show how we, even when provided with overwhelming data showing that the vaccine doesn’t cause autism, we may under some circumstances resist such knowledge claims and even become more certain that the data are wrong or irrelevant. Although the chapter shares the common puzzlement about such fact resistance, it also introduces the book’s critique of ‘common-sense complaints’ about fact resistance as based on a naive view of people as either irrational or as having the potential to be saved from their fact resistance if they are given even more and better facts. The aim of the book is presented here: to rethink knowledge resistance by treating it as the multi-faceted and profoundly human phenomenon it is. Such rethinking requires that we do two things differently. We have to allow ourselves to gain insights from what the broadest range of human sciences have to say about knowledge resistance. Moreover, we have to leave some of our – usually negative – preconceptions about knowledge resistance aside. The chapter ends by briefly describing what the rest of the book will cover.
This chapter moves from knowledge resistance between communities to how individuals handle knowledge when they reason with each other. We usually like to think that the point with reasoning with each other is to move closer to a more accurate understanding of the world. If that were the case, people would begin their reasoning with others in an open-minded way, by collecting and evaluating the available information and arguments systematically before shaping their knowledge belief. However, as court judges have known for centuries, the order is commonly the reverse. This is in line with new research in a strand of thought called argumentative theory. It stresses that the function of reasoning with others is primarily to win the argument and persuade the others of one’s own belief rather than to move closer to the truth. This chapter also raises questions over whether some phenomena have certain inherent features that make us particularly inclined to resist seemingly valid knowledge about them. Examples discussed include vaccination, climate change, and human evolution.
Why do people and groups ignore, deny and resist knowledge about society’s many problems? In a world of ‘alternative facts’, ‘fake news’, and ‘fact resistance’ that some believe could be remedied by ‘factfulness’ or ‘enlightenment’, the question has never been more pressing. Following years of ideologically polarised debates on this topic, the book seeks to further advance our understanding of the phenomenon of knowledge resistance by integrating insights from the social, economic, and evolutionary sciences. In current debates and studies, several vital factors are downplayed: that all people and institutions – even science – occasionally resist knowledge while calling their resistance ‘scepticism’, that knowledge resistance is not always irrational, that facts don’t equal truth, and that knowledge claims continuously need to be re-evaluated. Ignoring such key factors undermines the chances of reducing problematic knowledge resistance. Examples used in the book include controversies over climate change, the roots of violence, gender roles, religion, child-rearing, vaccination, genetically modified food, and artificial intelligence. In addition to accessible discussion of the scholarly literature and media sources, in-depth interviews with other renowned human scientists in the UK about their perspectives on knowledge resistance contribute to understanding this intriguing phenomenon. Moreover, the author shares his personal experiences of cultural clashes between different knowledge claims. The book is written for the educated public, students, and scholars interested in how people and groups handle knowledge controversies, and how such disputes can be resolved in the service of better managing the urgent social, environmental, and health-related problems of today.